Hopping on the Hybrid and Electric Bandwagon

Automakers around the world may be feeling the pain of the global credit crunch, but some big car companies and their suppliers are expressing confidence in the future of hybrid and electric vehicles. French auto parts maker Valeo said today it’s teaming up with fellow French tire maker Michelin to work on systems for hybrid and electric cars, and Germany’s Volkswagen yesterday signed a deal with Tokyo-based Toshiba to work on electric vehicle development.


Valeo and Michelin plan to work together on drivetrains, engine and battery cooling management, climate control, lighting, energy management, and tires. Volkswagen and Toshiba will look at electric drive units and power electronics for Volkswagen’s planned line of electric vehicles, as well as high-energy density battery systems.

The two new power couples aren’t the only ones pushing ahead with next-generation cars. Nissan Motor, (s NSANY) which said earlier this week that it will lay off 20,000 people, or 8.5 percent of its global workforce, by March 2010, still plans an electric vehicle rollout over the next few years. And Toyota Motor (s TM), which said it will chop executive pay in North America by up to 30 percent and offer buyouts to 18,000 workers, has a new Prius, as well as a plug-in version, set to come out later this year.

But while the big-name companies are able to keep their electric and hybrid heads above water, some startups are struggling. Tesla Motors is still waiting for up to $350 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy — cash that could be critical to the production of Tesla’s new Model S sedan — and Norway’s Think had to shut down operations in December before it received a helping hand from an investor last month.